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Drinkers and diners are facing smoking bans outside hundreds of pubs, bars and restaurants as the clampdown on the habit picks up pace.
With al-fresco eating and drinking growing in popularity thanks to the indoor restrictions imposed during the pandemic, a growing number of councils are insisting on the bans as part of venues’ licensing conditions when they apply for permission to put tables and chairs outdoors.
It means that punters who visit those premises won’t be able to enjoy a puff while they are seated on pavements outside.
But the creeping clampdown has drawn the ire of critics.
Campaign group We Vape said on Twitter: “Persecuting smokers is illiberal and neither will it have the effect of helping them quit.”
Critics also pointed out that it could create a situation in which it would be illegal to smoke while on pavement seating outside a bar or restaurant, but entirely legal for pedestrians to stand a yard outside the licensed area and puff away.
Although this initiative is being led by councils in the north of England – in Durham, Manchester, Newcastle, Northumberland and Tyneside – one county council further south is planning even tougher action in a bid to get smokers to stub it out.
Oxfordshire is considering a total smoking ban for outdoor hospitality, and it hopes to become the first “smoke-free” county by 2025, which would officially mean that no more than 5% of its population are smokers.
In response to that proposal, Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, said: "It's no business of local councils if adults choose to smoke… nor should it be the role of councillors to force smokers to quit by extending the indoor smoking ban to any outdoor area where there is no risk to non-smokers.
“The public will want local authorities to help local businesses bounce back from the impact of the pandemic. They will also be expected to focus on issues like employment and housing.
“Reducing smoking rates to meet some idealistic target is not a priority for most people and council policy should reflect that.”
But Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking group Ash, fired back, insisting that two-thirds of the public want areas outside pubs and cafes to be smoke-free.
“It is not like this is not on anyone’s radar," she told the Guardian.
"People complain a lot that if they go outside, they have to sit among smokers."
And she rejected the argument that people who don't want to be around smokers should sit indoors.
“People want to sit outside. They feel safer outside,” she said.
Smoking has been banned inside public places since 2007 and is now a well-established law, although it hasn’t prevented thousands of struggling pubs and bars to close since then.
There are fears that there could be many more victims within the hospitality industry in the aftermath of the pandemic as people’s socialising habits change.
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